Musicians in our midst: Charles Chaitman (10), improv pianist


Jacqueline Shih, Staff Writer

“Some people think I’m so talented and that what I do is unbelievable, but I just think it’s because not a lot of people pursue what I do. I’m not smarter, I’m not more creative than others, I just put myself out there and try,” Charles Chaitman (10) said.

Chaitman received a standing ovation after he improvised a full-fledged piano piece from a few notes at an assembly on February 14. When he began his piano journey, he never would have envisioned performing in front of the whole Upper Division.

He learned how to play the piano from his mother’s teacher when he was five years old. “A lot of people I looked up to played the piano, such as my mom and grandma,” he said. “[My mom] fostered my creativity from a young age and taught me the basics.“ Inspired by his songwriter teacher, he composed his first piece at seven years old — a simple pop song that repeated four chords and had a one-note melody. 

Chaitman also developed his love for music by dancing ballet. At 12 years old, he performed Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” ballet at the MET Opera House. “This performance really opened my doors to the world of music and definitely marked the beginning of when I really got into music.” Following this performance, Chaitman composed the score of his first ballet piece.

Chaitman is motivated by the fun and therapeutic nature of sitting down and playing the piano, he said. All the other distractions go away; focusing on the sound and the keys gives him a break from the things that stress him out.

He improvises by thinking of a melody and harmonies that go along well with it. “Improvising is instantaneous, so the most important thing is trying out new things and seeing what works and what doesn’t.” His knowledge in music theory and perfect pitch allows him to easily group notes together as chords and translate his creativity from his mind to the keys.  “It’s a lot like language — the difference is we are all taught how to speak a language, but we are not all taught the language of music.”

Chaitman also studies famous composers and implements those techniques into his improvisations. He aspires to be more technical and expand his musical vocabulary. That way, he can improvise more complex compositions with more textures.

Currently, Chaitman attends the Manhattan School of Music pre-college program where he learns music theory and trains every Saturday. He wants to pursue music after high school at a conservatory. “Hopefully, I’ll make a living from composing and playing,” he said. “I love creating music and that is what I will continue to do.”